USAF Bridge Tanker Program

Gestart door Parera, 20/09/2021 | 11:31 uur


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New Stealth Tanker Concept Unveiled by Lockheed Martin.

The U.S. Air Force has a crucial need for more survivable aerial refueling tankers by 2040, especially in the context of potential high-intensity conflicts, such as those in the Pacific against China. In response to this need, Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works has unveiled a new rendering of a stealthy aerial refueling tanker. The rendering, published by Aviation Week on May 13, 2024, shows the tanker refueling a stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, reflecting the growing imperative for such systems.

Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works has unveiled a rendering of a conceptual stealth tanker, comparable in size to a C-130, designed for the Next-Generation Air Refueling System

The Air Force's current fleet of tankers, including the KC-46, KC-135, and KC-10, is increasingly seen as inadequate for future combat scenarios involving anti-access and area denial environments. This has led to the development of the Next Generation Air-Refueling System (NGAS), which envisions a family of systems to support future air operations. The Skunk Works concept aims to address these challenges by offering a stealthy design capable of operating in contested environments.

The Skunk Works rendering reveals a tanker with a broad planform and large clipped wings that feature lambda-wing attributes. The narrow forward fuselage and small outwardly canted vertical tails suggest a design focused on minimizing radar signature. The aircraft's broad wings are designed to contain a significant amount of fuel, essential for its refueling mission. Stealth features, such as a chine-line wrapping around the forward part of the aircraft and a centrally mounted aerial refueling boom, enhance its low observable characteristics.

This new tanker concept differs from previous designs, such as the advanced tanker/cargo aircraft concepts with blended wing bodies seen in earlier Lockheed Martin proposals. The design also reflects the evolving refueling strategy of the Air Force, moving from traditional tankers to more survivable options. The Skunk Works tanker could potentially fulfill multiple roles, including acting as an electronic warfare and networking platform or even launching its own weapons and drones.

The Air Force's plan for future tankers includes survivable options for high-threat environments and more traditional tankers for permissive environments. General Mike Minihan, head of the Air Mobility Command (AMC), emphasized the need for a balanced fleet capable of operating in various threat levels without excessive costs. The NGAS is expected to integrate these diverse capabilities, ensuring that the Air Force can maintain the effectiveness of its tactical air force in future conflicts.

Budget uncertainties and new defense spending caps add complexity to the Air Force's plans. While the service has requested funds for the initial analysis and review of NGAS requirements, securing the necessary development and procurement funds will require a broader commitment beyond the Air Force. This uncertainty highlights the challenges in transitioning to a new generation of tankers.

The introduction of stealth tankers is part of a broader effort to adapt to changing threat environments. The Air Force's exploration of tanker concepts based on stealth bombers, such as the B-2 Spirit and B-21 Raider, indicates a willingness to innovate in response to evolving needs. As the Air Force refines its tanker requirements, the Skunk Works concept represents a significant step toward achieving the goal of a more survivable and versatile aerial refueling fleet.



Air Force releases Bridge Tanker Sources Sought Announcement

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio (AFLCMC) – The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center issued a Sources Sought Announcement for the Bridge Tanker Program to determine the number of qualified, interested companies capable of providing solutions for the planned, non-developmental tanker recapitalization program.

The Air Force is seeking companies that have the capability to deliver commercial derivative tanker aircraft to supplement the Air Force tanker aircraft fleet at the end of KC-46A production.

The new aircraft will bridge the gap to the next Advanced Air Refueling Tanker recapitalization phase, previously referred to as "KC-Z." The existing KC-46A firm-fixed price contract is limited to 13 production lots, with the last planned procurement in 2027 and delivered in 2029.

As a commercial derivative aircraft, the Bridge Tanker will be based on existing and emerging technologies with a full and open acquisition competition. Neither developmental stealth nor unmanned capability is planned.

The requirements for Bridge Tanker are currently being defined and the necessary capabilities will be incorporated into the final Request for Proposal once it is validated through the Department of Defense's joint staffing process. The Air Force plans to release the final RFP by the end of 2022.

The KC-135 will be 70 years old when the Air Force expects to receive its last KC-46 delivery in 2029, and replacing these vital aircraft continues to be critical to the Air Force mission to project Rapid Global Mobility in today's strategically competitive environment.

Air Force Plans To Buy A New Tanker As Problems Persist With The One It's Already Buying